This week, we are teaming up with NECA to celebrate our 500th Toy Photo Gallery. What you may not know is that in 2016, NECA is celebrating 20 years of business! While still young compared to companies like Hasbro, Mattel and LEGO, the team at NECA have an ever growing fan base thanks to their strong social media presence and years of pop culture licenses and consistently surprising releases.
Since we’re partnering with NECA this week, I wanted to take time out and look at the company. After the jump, I’ve chronicled, to the best of my ability, the history of NECA, their important licenses and how they’ve grown since their inception. This is not a 100% complete history. I’ve done my best to source my info, ran most of it by Randy Falk and hit on as many major points as I could.
NECA, aka the National Entertainment Collectibles Association, was founded in 1996. They are headquartered in Northern New Jersey, just a short drive from New York. At their studio, they employee numerous sculptors, painters, a diorama creation studio, photography, packaging designers and their marketing department. On any given day, the team at the studio are hard at work as they create the assorted clay prototypes, 3D sculpts and hand painted displays for the toys and collectibles fans love. The main portion of the studio is dominated by the sculptors and painters. It also houses an unbelievable amount of NECA history.
Throughout the studio you can see numerous production figures, prototypes and unreleased items from NECA history, creating a space that you can easily lose yourself in. They also create their dioramas on site here, with a wonderful storage and creation room filled with past displays and in-progress creations. Those creations, along with newly acquired production figures, are photographed for press images and packaging art on site, which allows them to share these with fans within a matter of hours if they so choose. Lucky fans have been able to visit and tour the facility at times, which helps to foster the great rapport they have with their fans.
There’s not much info available for NECA’s early days. We know that they were producing a bunch of non-figure type items. Items like licensed household collectibles, such as lamps. For the most part, we’re going to focus on what transpired from the early 2000’s until now.
Early Years 2001 – 2004
While NECA was indeed founded in 1996, it wasn’t until 2001 that they truly began to catch the eyes of pop culture enthusiasts and collectors. That year they launched a line of collectible figures based on Tim Burton’s iconic film; Beetlejuice! The line consisted not only of the titular character, but also the Maitlands, and assorted other characters. It firmly established the 7″ scale that NECA still uses today. In the same year, NECA teamed up with Walt Disney Studios to reissue the classic Tron figures and Light Cycles, which were originally produced by Tomy.
In 2002, NECA as we know it was truly formed. That’s when Randy Falk, who many fans connect with via the @NECA_Toys Twitter account, joined the company. Randy brought along talented members from McFarlane Toys as well as many fresh faces. During this time, they began to establish themselves as a go to studio for cult hit films, video games and television shows with the establishment of Reel Toys, which is still in use today. Randy is the Director of Product Development at NECA and he spearheads many of the lines you see on store shelves.
From 2001 through 2004, NECA experimented with a variety of classic and new licenses. They would create collectibles for films like A Christmas Story, Cheech and Chong, and Disney Films. But it was during this time that they began to take hold of the horror and sci-fi communities. They began to introduce collectibles, 7″ scale and 1/4 scale figures based on the most iconic modern horror and science fiction franchises. Their Ghostbusters, Freddy vs Jason, Halloween and A Nightmare On Elm Street lines are ones that fans still look back on with fondness.
Also, during this time, NECA was one of the pioneering companies helping to establish alternate retail outlets as destinations for toys and collectibles. Places like (the now defunct) Suncoast Video would help to bring the adult collectibles market into its own. When the home video market re-exploded during the early years of DVD, people were revisiting the movies they loved and finding a ton of interesting items based on those properties.
An Explosion of Toys – 2005 – 2008
In 2005, NECA stepped up their game, launching or maintaining over a dozen licenses, nearly doubling their licenses from 2004. Like their A Nightmare On Elm Street line, some of the licenses launched in 2005 are still going today. During that year they released their first Robocop, Friday the 13th, and Iron Maiden collectibles. Though, 2005 may be most notable for a license that many likely have forgotten about. When Mattel ceased production on the 200x Masters of the Universe 6″ scale line, NECA stepped in. They began to produce 6″ scale statues that filled in the missing pieces from the line. Each release looked spot on like one of the retail figures, even down to the packaging used. They also had the added bonus of including a base.
The Cult Classic line launched during this time. It allowed NECA to bring characters from popular horror licenses together under one banner. Cult classics spanned licenses like Dawn of the Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Silence of the Lambs, Gremlins, Terminator, Lost Boys and many, many more. Cult classics would make up a large number of their pop culture releases during this time frame. This series remains one of their most referenced in terms of quality characters selection, sculpting and presentation. Cult Classics ultimately ended in 2008 as NECA pursued individual licenses to expand into larger lines.
The other major license NECA took on, this time in 2008, was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These figures, to this day, are still referenced as one of the best takes on those characters. Instead of taking on the insanely popular cartoon versions, NECA tried something truly unique. They decided to take on the original look of the characters from the much darker and grittier comic series. The line would give us the four Turtles (in single packs, and two convention exclusive gift sets), multiple versions of April O’Neil and the pesky Mousers. Sadly, fans didn’t appear to be ready for this darker take on the Heroes in a Half Shell. the line was ended due to poor sales before we could get their amazing take on the likes of Shredder and more.
Other notable licenses for this period include an assortment of iconic musicians and singers, Resident Evil, Hitman, 300, Castlevania, Conan, The Princess Bride, Ninja Gaiden and more. Their Player Select line, which was a hit during this time frame, included a great promotion for their Castlevania figures. For San Diego Comic-Con 2007, they offered a 2″ vinyl pixel Simon Belmont to celebrate the upcoming line of figures. A second Part 2 version was offered later as a pre-order bonus.
Pop Culture Reigns – 2009 – 2012
By 2009, NECA had a firm grip on the pop culture collectibles scene. They were producing and maintaining an enormous amount of licenses. By this point, they were producing collectibles for between 12 – 15 newer licenses as well as their ongoing series of figures. An economic downturn in 2008 seemed to have little effect on toy sales as a whole, but it was clear that a slowdown was in place. In 2009, sales declined slightly as the toy industry seemed amazingly resilient compared to other markets.
NECA handled this in stride, focusing in on top new film and game licenses. Longer running licenses like the continuing Harry Potter and Assassin’s Creed brands all made their mark on fans. Street Fighter fans were in for a treat, as NECA released their first figures based on Street Fighter IV in 2009. The short lived series ended well before it deserved to, but treated fans to six excellent molds modeled after the newly updated character designs. Also in 2009, NECA acquired Wizkids, makers of collectible mini figures for gaming, such as HeroClix. Wizkids has become an important part of NECA’s success as it expanded their offering beyond action figures, into an entirely new market. That year they also revived one of their longest running lines with Cult Classics Icons. They would be new and repacked figures that would work well with the original Cult Classics. Then in 2010, NECA launched, what has become, their biggest success. We got our very first in the new line of Predator figures. By using the new “Predators” film as a launching point, NECA began to release characters from that film, as well as reintroducing the classic film Predators.
Years 2011 and 2012 saw NECA ramp production back up, acquiring a staggering number of new licenses, while revisiting older character last seen in the Cult Classics line. Only now they were fully fleshing those licenses out into their own dedicated lines. Some of the newer licenses included Rocky, Rambo, and ET. In addition to their normal 7″ lines, NECA was continuing on with their 1/4 scale and added in DC and Marvel licenses to those.
New Risks, New Ideas, New Fans – 2013 – Present
2013 proved to be a great kick off for NECA. They launched a new line of Alien figures that continues and grows to this day. But it was a simple repaint that would make the biggest splash. Leading up to San Diego Comic-Con 2013, NECA was prepping an exclusive that would completely change the way fans saw their collectibles. They had released their very first Video Game Appearance figure, NES Jason Voorhees, at SDCC 2013. This was a simple, ugly and oddly enticing repaint of a previous Jason figure. It came packaged in a flapped window box that hearkened back to the classic 8-Bit NES packaging. It was a massive success, and NECA soon realized they were being exposed to fans and collectors who have never purchased a Jason or NECA figure before. This one gamble snowballed into a successful line of re-purposed and repainted figures based on, and styled after, their Classic Video Game Appearance.
The end of 2014 saw NECA expand their offerings once again, as they acquired vinyl collectible maker Kidrobot. Since then Kidrobot has remained a very independent style company, but has greatly expanded the types of vinyl collectibles they are producing. Throughout 2014 and 2015, NECA continued with some of their most well known brands and lines. The Video Game Appearance line took off in this time. They also launched a new line of Mego inspired 8″ cloth figures. In a lot of ways, this fills a hole left by the Cult Classics line. The Mego style figures hit on a variety of different brands, from horror to comedy to adventure and sci-fi. The static body types allow for great experimentation with new licenses, as seen with their Snake Plissken, Home Alone and music mascot based figures. We also saw the rise (and unfortunate fall) of a fantastic series of Planet of the Apes figures, which never seemed to catch onto the mainstream or casual fans.
Fans were introduced to other great lines like Pacific Rim, Godzilla, Scalers and more. Surprises included special offer DC 7″ scale figures like Michael Keaton Batman, Christopher Reeve Superman and a few more. NECA also begun releasing Ultimate 7″ Scale Figures. Like their Game appearance line, these came in flapped window boxes. They are meant to be the ultimate representation of characters at that scale. Some are all new, like their Leatherface and Sarah Connor, while some are updated versions of previously released molds like the T-800.
2016 and Beyond
We’re just hitting the new year, and Toy Fair 2016 is just around the corner. NECA is promising a massive showing with new, toy lines, new figures and new surprises. Expect new items in long running lines like Aliens, Terminator and Predator, as well as more Video Game Appearance, Mego and Ultimate figures. Later this week, we have an extensive 3-part interview with NECA’s Randy Falk and talk the past, present and future of NECA Toys.
Check out a massive gallery below, showing some of our NECA at show photos and assorted classic official NECA images from throughout the years.